Life Span: 1900-1982
Location: Wabash avenue, between Fourteenth and Sixteenth streets
Architect: Frost & Granger
Inter Ocean, January 4, 1899
The Libby Prison War Museum association of Chicago has assigned and set over to the Coliseum company of Chicago a certain leasehold interest dated Feb. 6, 1889, and executed by John D. Jennings and wife to the Libby Prison War Museum association for the term of 99 years, covering the following ppty: Wabash av. 488½ s of 14th st. w f. 283 64-100×172, together with the appurtenances, buildings, structures, and fixtures thereon and belonging thereto, for the same term and subject to all the provisions, terms, and conditions of the above-mentioned lease. The consideration is $1; deed is signed by S. H. Woodbury, president for the Libby Prison War Museum Assn. and is dated Dec. 30, 1890.
Inter Ocean, April 26, 1899
The Coliseum company, the corporation that is to build a new coliseum building on the site of the old Libby prison, has acquired 69.5×171 feet of the ground to be built on by a purchase from Ira B. Cook and wife for $51,222. The ground is on the east side of Wabash avenue, 546 feet north of Sixteenth street. A deed of trust gto the property has been given to the Title Guarantee and Trust company in security of a loan of $36,000 for three years with 4½ per cent interest. The old prison building, which was used as a war museum, is being torn down. Charles F. Gunther is the president of the Coliseum company.
Inter Ocean, June 29, 1899
Chicago Tribune, August 29, 1899
The twelve iron arches put up as the skeleton for the proposed Coliseum at Fifteenth street and Wabash avenue fell in one great heap yesterday afternoon, carrying down with them thirty painters and bridge builders then at work on the job. Nine men were killed, fourteen injured, four are missing, and the est escaped. The arches were each eighty feet at at the highest point and 160 feet from base to base. They fell nor singly nor in pairs, but all at the same time, in the same direction, and with the same motion. There was scant warning. The men who one moment had been working in supposed safety high up in the air the next were riding to their death on swiftly falling rafters, crushing out their lives when they crashed to the ground.
It was all over in an instant. The last arch had been put in place on Saturday afternoon, and they stood all in a row, twelve of them, twenty-five feet apart, and spanning the space, 300×160 feet, which was designed to form the floor of the big building. Painters were at work on the earlier completed arches to the south, while at the northern end the bridge builders were busy taking away the remaining false work. Each arch was connected by braces and beams with those adjoining it and the structure looked to be a securely constructed whole.
Arches Sway and Fall.
It was a little after 4:30 o’clock, and the bridge builders on the northern arch were letting down some heavy timbers which had been used as part of a traveler to carry the iron rafters into position. There was hardly a breath of air stirring or anything which could suggest then least danger. Suddenly the arches began to sway from the north to the south. The first motion was scarcely perceptible. The return was more so. Then the twelve great arches came back with a giant swing and with a unifirm motion hurled themselves and all they carried in one great ruin on the ground below.
It could not be compared to the falling of dominoes, for there one goes ahead of another. It was more like a ten stroke at tenpins, although the arches were all carried by the same force in the same direction. When the crash was over and the dust had settled the appearance of the ruin was like the aisle cut in a forest by a hurricane, when great trees lies in rows all pointed in the same direction with their intertangled branches resembling the broke and twisted iron rods which had been used to bind the arches together,.
Work of Rescue.
From the mass of twisted iron rose screams for help. Aid came at once, but it was at first useless. Men and women rushed into the inclosure from the street, but only to stand and wonder at what had happened. Then came the police and a fire company and the work of rescue was quickly done.
It was not a difficult task taking out the dead and injured, for there was nothing to hide them from view. Between the twisted rafters on top of the workmen below were wide gaps of space and everywhere the men pinned down by them could be clearly seen and easily reached. In spite of this situation, however, four men are still reported as missing.
Some fortunate ones had escaped serious injury by the fact that while iron girders and beams had fallen all around they were not struck. Everybody could be located by the eye and it did not need the cries of the wounded to tell the rescuers where they were.
Inside of twenty minutes the victims had been take out—the dead sent to the morgues and the wounded to the hospital. The ambulances service was prompt and the policemen in charge worked well.
Definite plaqns for the inquest have not been made. None of the directory of the Coliseum company and none of the contractors have been arrested. Stewart Spalding, secretary of the Coliseum company, has been notified to attend the inquest when it is held.
Former Coliseum Disasters.
Both the Coliseums which previously had been built in Chicago were overtaken by disaster. One collapsed and the second had burned. In the former case there were nom fatalities; in the latter one life was lost.
Cause of Collapse in Dispute.
the cause of the building’s collapse was and yet is a matter of dispute. There were two theories. One was that the taking away of the false work had weakened the structure so that it fell when the support was withdrawn. The other theory, and the one generally received, was that the arches simply had been pulled away engine used in lowering the temporary wooden beams.
As stated, the arches were all up, but the false work remained around the northern one. The beams composing this were being let down to the ground by ropes running through blocks attached to the lower side of the arch, eighty feet in the air. The engine turning the drum around which the rope was coiled was i=under the arches and 100 feet to the south of this northern one. The theory of Architect Frost is that the block through which the rope ran was not directly in the middle of the arch, as it ought to have been, but was east of the center in order the more easily to reach the beams which were being handled. The result was a transverse strain on the arch which pulled it out of place, and it being started, all the others went with it.
There is also a dispute whether the arches were anchored at their bases. The plans called for concrete anchorage under the base of each arch, through which ran iron rods bolted into the circular bottoms of the arches. The arches at their base did not go horizontally into this concrete, but the upper and lower trusses met at the bottom and made the base of each arch like a great letter U. Through the bottom of this U the bolts ran, which anchored it to the concrete foundation. Such at least were the plans.
An examination made after the fall, however, did not disclose evidence of this anchorage. The bottom plates of the bases of the arches were all broken, but there were not more than half an inch in thickness, and any bolts which may have been put in to hold the arches down evidently pulled out like stems drawn out of a ripe cherry. They were of no avail in keeping the arches in place. It is doubtful, however, if any anchorage would have prevented the fall of the structure. The motion came from above, the top of the heavy framework toppling over, and so great was the leverage below that even had the anchors been the size of a battleship’s keel thy must have snapped.
Contractors for the Building.
The contractors for the work were let to two firms. The Pittsburgh Bridge company, of which Daniel W. Church is the resident manager, had the architectural iron work and it is this which fell. The Grace & Hyde company was the contractor for the masonry and other work, but the firm was not yet in charge of the job, although it had gone as far as to put up the single wall to the south. Frost & Granger were the architects for the building, but like the Grace & Hyde company, were not yet in charge. the contract with the Pittsburgh Bridge company specifying that E. C. and R. M. Shankland, engineers who had charge of the structural iron work on the World’s Fair, should superintend the erection of the iron work on this building. Thus far practically no work had been done except in connections with the iron superstructure; and the Pittsburgh Bridge company and the Shanklands were in full charge of the job. E. C. Shankland drew the same plans for the work and they were the same, although on a smaller scale, as those for the Manufacturers’ Building at the World’s Fair.
Will Build the Structure Anew.
The accident to the Coliseum will not put an end to the construction of the building. Architect Shankland, speaking for the owners of the building, and said that it had already determined to commence reconstruction. As soon as the debris is cleaed away the work will be recommenced. According to Burtnell Gunther, son of the President, the accident will mean a delay of only six months in the completion of the building. It is thought that much of the structural iron can be used in the new building. According to Daniel W. Church, the loss occasioned by the catastrophe will be under $30,000. The total amount of the contract of the Pittsburgh company was $40,000. Young Gunther places the loss at a higher figure. No alteration will be made in the plans for the building, the three-hinged truss being the one used. The members of the Coliseum company hope to have the building ready fir the national conventions.
Chicago Tribune, July 29, 1900
Chicago Tribune, August 19, 1900
The Coliseum will be put to its first use, informally, this afternoon when the Encampment chorus rehearses there.
1901 Chicago Auto Show
Inter Ocean, January 31, 1902
An indoor summer garden in the Coliseum, with vaudeville, band music, refreshments, and conducted along the lines of the European summer places of amusement, is projected by a company of Chicago business men. The plans for the enterprise are well under way, the Coliseum having been engaged for the purpose, and application having been made to the Secretary of State at Springfield for the charter.
The big South Side building has been leased for the months of June, July, August, and September, covering a period of five years. When the weather becomes warm the present method of heating will be reversed, so as the force of volume of air into the building through pipes kept cold by the ammonia process. The general management is in the hands of George S. Wood, who has for several years been identified with amusement enterprises.
“This is no new idea,” said Mar. Wood yesterday, “as one of the objects set forth in the incorporation of the Coliseum company, was to provide a building suitable for summer entertainment and amusements, and many people have discussed the possibility of conducting a large and first-class resort in Chicago during the summer season that would not be jeopardized by the changeable weather or so far away from the center of the city as to make it accessible to those living only in one section. Several of the shows given in the Coliseum have attracted great crowds, and established the fact that the location is all right if the attraction is satisfactory.”
1906 Flower Show
Chicago Tribune, March 9, 1971
The Frazier-Ali fight in New York left Chicago’s Coliseum’s floor in shambles after closed circuit telecast failed and patrons revolted. The Coliseum was closed four days later due to building codes.
Chicago Tribune, January 15, 1982
The Chicago Coliseum, closed since 1971, has been sold by Wabteen Corp. to a firm planning a new development on the site. Sheldon Good, whose firm served as broker in the transaction, said that the buyer, Coltow Corp., plans to save some of the facade of the building for use in construction of the new project. The Coliseum at 15th Street and Wabash Avenue, was dedicated in 1900 by President William McKinley and in its earlier years served as the site for several national political conventions. It housed sporting events, circuses, concerts and meetings before falling into disrepair in the last decade. Late last year, the city’s landmarks commission voted not to seek landmark status for the arena. Attorneys for Wabteen Corp. had argued that the building couldn’t be sold because Coltow Corp. feared landmark status would block demolition.
1900-1908 First Ward Ball
1901 Automobile Show
1902 Automobile Show
1903 Automobile Show
1904 Automobile Show
1905 Automobile Show
1908 Automobile Show
1909 Automobile Show
1910 Automobile Show
1911 Automobile Show
1914 Automobile Show
1916 Automobile Show
1929 Automobile Show
1932 Automobile Show
1935 First Roller Derby event
1940 American Negro Exposition
1903 Horse Show
From 1904 through 1920, this Coliseum hosted five consecutive Republican National Conventions, and the Progressive Party convention in 1912.
1908 Republican Convention
1911 Sanborn Map
Ted Howlett says
Great story, thank you for your research and sharing.